So we have the Saville report at last, after so many years and at a cost of £200m. Has this solved anything? Will it bring closure to the issue? I do not think so. All this has done is re-open old wounds and take people back to a time from which we all want to move forward.
Let me make it quite clear that the loss of lives on Bloody Sunday was a terrible thing to have happened and one can only sympathise wholeheartedly with the bereaved families. These were among many deaths in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and it is a great shame that the violence went on for so long.
But I do not believe that the Saville report really tells the whole story of what went on. That was never going to be possible for something which happened almost 40 years ago, and for events where it is unlikely that some people gave the whole truth when they presented their evidence. We must not forget that we had an armed conflict in Northern Ireland at the time and people were dying at the hands of the paramilitaries every week. These killings were not carried out just by the republicans but the loyalists as well and many of them were sectarian.
Now we have a situation where these killers have been freed from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement – many of them after serving just a fraction of their sentence.
After Lord Saville blamed British soldiers for the Bloody Sunday deaths, are we going to have a situation where these soldiers can face charges while the terrorists walk free? Surely if the Agreement was meant to draw a line under the years of the conflict it should apply to both sides. If it does not, can one blame people in the armed forces of this country if they feel very let down by the Saville report's conclusions?
There is another aspect to this. People on the mainland think that the situation in Ulster is now entirely peaceful. But we have had soldiers and a policeman killed there and numerous incidents involving explosives. In a situation such as this, when what is needed is calm and an unified front against the men of violence, this report may actually prove to be inflammatory. Instead of closure we may end up returning to the old divisions.
Major General Julian Thompson is the former commander of the Royal Marines. He served in Northern Ireland during the TroublesReuse content